Lost Family Photos Inspire Czech Artist Jana Paleckova’s Oil-Paint Interventions



Jana Paleckova has been picking bones with the past. After rummaging through boxes of discarded vintage photographs in antique shops and flea markets, the 34-year-old Czech artist was intrigued and frustrated the absence of any immediate context attached to such neglected images. The photos appeared riddled with lacunae; they were ciphers of histories at once preserved and unknown. Paleckova engaged in a bit of tongue-in- cheek necromancy with the orphaned photographs, teasing playful new narratives into the unwitting images. She develops a tug-o-war between the past and the present in the resulting works, treating them like artifacts deserving of preservation and as found objects ripe for use as raw material. Her recent works are presented by Fred.Giampietro Gallery this week at Outsider Art Fair in New York.

Layering fanciful, humorous imagery in color onto the surfaces of antique photographs of anonymous, largely decontextualized subjects, Paleckova’s oil-paint interventions blend seamlessly, if impertinently, into the original portraits. Her exuberant additions also supplement the photographs’ narratives; they augment and exaggerate rather than simply frame these found photographs. The original subjects of the portraits remain at odds with the visual addenda that encroach on them; at times, the intrusion of these new elements even appears to confuse the subjects. Rather than clarify the interpretation of these images stripped of context, her visual annotations—more suggestive hypertext than explanatory subtext—are so enigmatic that they tend to further muddle and fracture no matter what. This, however, seems to be the point: Paleckova’s work presents hybrid images that operate in a merry chorus of competing motifs, each inflating, exceeding, confounding, and complementing the other. Capitalizing on the absence of clear context or locations in the photographs, Paleckova works to underscore the ways in which images like these at once invite and resist revision or explanation, which is what ultimately makes them so enticing.

In a sense, these manipulated photographs are palimpsests that enliven the undertones of mortality that are often ascribed to aged photographic portraits. Portraiture, for Paleckova, is no longer understood as a death mask for a particular life, but rather as a visual space rife with potential, inviting creative license.

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell